Nokia 7900 Prism
Style over substance
Review Big brother to the Prism 7500, the somewhat sinister and Darth Vader-esque Prism 7900 is the next step in Nokia's campaign to convince us that visual style should be the primary driving force when it comes to buying a mobile phone.
But baroque and cyberpunk looks aside, it's the sparkling and still not-yet-commonplace OLED display that is the 7900's sole distinguishing technical feature.
You can find out what exactly OLED is here, but the short and tall of it is that an OLED screen makes for a bright and highly colourful display with far better contrast than a normal LCD while at the same time sucking down less power because it doesn't require a separate backlight. In the real world, all this means that it's hard not be just a little impressed when the 7900's 2in screen lights up.
Nokia's 7900: the screen's bright, but only when the weather isn't
The display is without doubt one of the brightest and clearest we've seen on a mobile phone. But sad to say it only really works when you're indoors or in poor light. In direct sunlight, the 7900's screen suffers badly, far more so than a traditional LCD screen, making it very difficult to read.
When active, the display changes depending on the time of day, battery strength and signal strength, a feature Nokia refers to with the rather disturbing phrase “living wallpaper”, which sounds like something you'd read about in a Clive Barker novel. You can also select from 49 keyboard backlight colours that radiate from below the keypad and pulse from the two horseshoe LEDs on the top of the handset giving potentially hours of fun setting up your phone to look just so and to match your personal aura down to a tee.
At 112 x 45 x 11.3mm and 101g, the 7900 is 3.5mm thinner and 18g heavier than the 7500. It comes with quad-band GSM/GPRS and 3G - though no HSDPA - and there's 1GB of on-board memory. Bizarrely, the 7900 lacks its sibling's memory expansion slot. Nor does it support 3G video calling - odd omissions for a phone with such fashion-tech pretensions.
On the front of the handset, the triangular scoring effects are not quite so comprehensively executed as they are on the 7500. They're confined to the keypad itself and aluminium back panel but not the keypad surround. The 7900 looks all the better for this and has the added benefit that the call start/end and soft-menu keys are in a more usual place than they are on the 7500.
The exterior of the 7900 has been pretty ruthlessly shorn of all buttons and ports, the exception being the mini USB port at the top that takes either the charger, the supplied USB cable or the headphones. This means no exterior camera activation button or lanyard eye.
Only one port to disturb the 7900's exterior
While fiddling about with the handset we noticed that the battery is impossible to remove without the use of a knife or blade of some description. Its the runner grooves for that aluminium back panel that seem to be responsible, making the battery sit absolutely flush with the surround all the way around. Thankfully, the SIM slides in and out easily enough.
A slight problem with the back panel also forming the sides of the handset is that when pulling the USB cable out the pack panel can slide down, or rather the phone slides 'out' of the panel which is what you are holding the handset by. Just as well the battery is so hard to remove then...
Get past all the 'design' and the 7900 is actually a reasonable enough handset. The aluminium back panel gives the handset a cool and solid feel in the hand while the keypad, though utterly flat and made up of rather weirdly shaped keys, is straightforward to use, making typing errors surprisingly rare. The fifth-edition S40 user interfactes is the usual model of clarity and logic, while sound and signal quality are all tip-top. Battery life is nothing to write home about, though. Nokia says, two hours and 50 minutes of talk time, rising to 240 hours on stand-by. We say, two days of medium use in a 3G area.
The two-megapixel camera with LED 'flash' is common to both Prism handsets, with video recording restricted to a maximum of 176 x 144. While it may be acceptable on the lower rent 7500, we can't help but feel that the 7900 should have been graced with something more up-market.
Supplied applications include the Opera Mini web browser, four games and a four-city world clock. You also get a rather nice suede (ish) pouch to keep everything looking new and scratch free.
With all the gubbins
The supplied phones are rather dated with their foam covers, but replacing them will involve buying an adaptor for the 7900's mini USB port. The supplied set sound OK, though, while the on-board music player pumps out a more-than-decent sound and comes with a comprehensive equaliser. Our test handset came pre-loaded with a selection of tracks from the Kings of Leon, Razorlight, the Killers and the Klaxons.
The 7900 is available with either a black or "sand gold" aluminium back panel. For those who think the bog standard model is just not elegant enough, a Special Edition Crystal Prism is also available with a gem-like navigation key plus purple back panel, wallpapers and print bandanna all designed by French artist Frédérique Daubal.
Frédérique's purple Prism
Don't worry, we'd never heard of her, either. But since it's not entirely clearly how you go about availing yourself of the Special Edition, perhaps that's not great loss.
Unlocked and SIM-free the 7900 is a going to set you back the best part of £300 in the UK, which is more than twice the price of the 7500 and a lot to ask for a phone of this spec. We suspect this will not be an issue as most will be purchased with airtime contracts and probably come for free, but still that is a lot of folding for a flash screen, a metal backplate and 3G.
Nokia's Prism 7900 is all about the screen and the styling. Take the OLED panel and design highlights out of the equation and you may as well save a chunk of cash and buy a black 7500 that looks broadly the same. But the 7900 is certainly nice to look at, and the lighting effects, we'd say, flash enough to help you pick up people in fashionable bars.